BOSTON, August 9, 2023 – Earlier today, Massachusetts Governor Maura Healey signed into law the FY24 Budget of the Commonwealth, which includes $49 million for the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation (MLAC) to provide funding to civil legal aid organizations through line item 0321-1600. This marks an $8 million increase over the FY23 allocation.
MLAC is the largest funder for our state’s civil legal aid organizations, which provide free representation, guidance, and resources to people with low incomes who are facing civil legal problems that threaten their access to basic needs. Last year, MLAC-funded organizations helped more than 96,000 people across Massachusetts secure safety, shelter, and economic stability. Civil legal aid attorneys handle a wide range of non-criminal cases, including eviction and housing instability, consumer fraud, domestic protection orders, workers’ rights violations and wage theft, access to equitable education services, and more.
MLAC Executive Director Lynne Parker expressed her appreciation to Governor Healey and the Legislature, saying, “This investment will make a difference in the lives of people and families struggling to make ends meet. When faced with a civil legal crisis, our state’s most vulnerable residents have no means of hiring an attorney. Without representation, the odds are stacked against people with low incomes; for example, data from housing court shows unrepresented tenants facing eviction are much more likely to lose their case than tenants who come to court with an attorney by their side.”
Households with an annual income at or below 125% of the federal poverty guidelines are eligible for civil legal aid funded through MLAC’s line item. In 2023, that threshold is $37,500 for a family of four and $18,255 for an individual.
In several key areas, demand for legal aid from MLAC-funded organizations has increased significantly over the past three years. During FY20-FY22, closed case averages show that unemployment insurance cases increased by 320%, domestic violence cases increased by 40%, and landlord-tenant cases increased by 23%.
“Our Commonwealth is committed to the goal of ensuring a fair and accessible justice system for all,” said Parker. “Making this a reality takes intentional, strategic investment. With $49 million in FY24, Massachusetts civil legal aid organizations will continue to employ more attorneys and other staff, assist more people across the state, expand their partnerships, and innovate to meet new and developing needs.”
Parker noted that MLAC is also grateful for the dedicated support of the Equal Justice Coalition, which includes the Massachusetts Bar Association, the Boston Bar Association, and the Women’s Bar Association; managing partners of many of the state’s largest law firms; corporate in-house counsels; representatives from area law schools; and social services organizations across the Commonwealth.